When Will Japan Reopen & Allow Tourists?

As the world begins to reopen and resume some sense of normalcy, one question on the minds of travelers is when will Japan begin allowing international tourists to enter? As a vacation planning site that offers strategy for visiting Kyoto, Tokyo, and other destinations, we thought it’d be worth trying to answer this. (Updated September 1, 2020.)

In terms of background, the Japanese central government declared a state of emergency after much hesitation. At the time, official spread was low (aside from the Diamond Princess), with some speculating that Japan had purposefully avoided testing in an effort to salvage the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Once the summer games were officially postponed until July 23, 2021, Japan requested people to stay home–but didn’t enact a stringent lockdown–with schools and some businesses closing. This continued for nearly two months, with the state of emergency now being fully lifted. Despite the aforementioned criticism, Japan never saw a significant spike in cases–at least not to the extent of Europe and the United States…

We originally planned on traveling to Japan a couple of weeks before the start of sakura season, staying for a little over one month to research and update our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto. These plans were abandoned at the last minute (almost literally), and we made the call to stay in the United States. It was difficult because we likely would’ve felt safer in Japan, but the uncertainty of being in a foreign country (and potentially being stranded there) outweighed that.

For the last 6 months, we’ve been closely watching the improvements in Japan, hoping for some clarity as to when the country will fully reopen and Japan will begin allowing international tourists to enter once again. We are eager to return, but also apprehensive–but more on that towards the bottom of the post.

Japan has imposed entry bans on 150+ countries and regions including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, all of Europe (including the United Kingdom), and most of Asia. The bans are currently in effect indefinitely. Japan has also temporarily suspended visa exemptions, making it necessary to apply for a visa prior to traveling.

Additionally, everyone entering Japan must undergo a mandatory quarantine at a designated location and may not use public transportation for 14 days upon arrival. Foreigners, including those with residency in Japan, who have been to countries on the entry ban list within 14 days of their arrival in Japan will be turned away under current border control measures.

In a nutshell, it’s presently impossible to visit Japan unless you are a Japanese citizen or meet one of the few exceptions. That’s probably not going to apply to anyone reading this English language blog post, so let’s turn to what the future holds…

With the state of emergency lifted, the Japanese government is encouraging people to practice physical distancing, good hygiene practices, and mask wearing in public (among other things). They’re also being asked to avoid visiting crowded and poorly ventilated places. In some areas (including Tokyo), certain establishments are requested to remain closed or shorten their business hours.

However, most businesses may now fully reopen, with schools also resuming classes in many of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Nevertheless, people are also being asked to avoid non-essential travel to certain regions of Japan, including the Tokyo, after a mild spike (or second wave) of cases over the summer travel season.

After easing some restrictions, Tokyo Prefecture saw an increase in the number of new infection cases in recent weeks, but that has started to subside and trend downwards. Japan did not reinstate a state of emergency.

Barring a pronounced spike, Japanese leaders have expressed a desire to jump-start the world’s third-largest economy and have embraced measures to signal the start of the return to normal life. However, this is also tempered by fears of a second wave or spike due to increased traveling.

A gradual reopening of Japan’s borders is now underway. Beginning September 2020, foreign residents are finally allowed to reenter Japan, albeit with onerous quarantine and testing requirements. This follows mounting criticism from the expatriate community that the ban was discriminatory.

Reopening Japan’s borders to foreign residents stranded abroad is step one, with the plan to ease restrictions on business travelers and students next, followed by tourists. This process has been fairly slow thus far.

The next step being considered by the Japanese government is easing its entry ban on visitors from Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand, and regions where infections have subsided. Japan is also considering allowing entry of foreigners from the countries who have certification for testing negative.

It’s worth noting that when the Japanese government “considers” something, it takes a while for the change to come to fruition. To an extent, this is totally understandable–we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and much uncertainty exists. Health and safety are paramount concerns and priorities.

However, in following the unfortunate saga of the foreign residents it seems that Japan’s decisions–or lack thereof–are being driven by fear of cultural outsiders and indecisiveness more so than anything else. It would be one thing if government decisions consistently prioritized health and safety above all else, but that has not been the case.

As a case in point, the Japanese government began reviving its battered tourism industry by paying for people to go on vacation within the country…right as cases began to peak this summer. Approximately 1.35 trillion yen was earmarked for the controversial “Go To Travel” campaign, part of a gigantic emergency relief and stimulus package that will exceed 200 trillion yen.

Nevertheless, Japanese officials have indicated a desire to balance being diligent against spread with considering how to resume international travel. The number of travelers to Japan has plunged in recent months, with visitors down 99.9% year over year in the last several months.

Prior to this year, tourism to Japan has been surging, with several consecutive record setting years. Last year, Japan’s tourism numbers were up to a record 31.9 million visitors. In fact, every single year since 2013 has been a new record for inbound tourism to Japan.

Japan had just 8 million tourists when Prime Minister Shinzō Abe was elected to his second term (As you’ve likely seen, Prime Minister Abe resigned just lack week–a decision that will create more uncertainty and hesitation in decision-making). In 7 years, that number more than quadrupled. Some places we like to visit that were once serene or frequently primarily by locals are now often overrun by tourists. (We see the irony in our complaint here.)

Boosting tourism has been core to Prime Minister Abe’s economic revitalization plan, and until now, increased inbound visitation has been one of the biggest success stories of “Abenomics.” The now-delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics have been viewed as instrumental to these plans, with Japan’s inbound tourism target for 2020 being 40 million visitors at the start of the year.

Thus far, roughly 4 million international travelers have visited Japan in 2020. It’s impossible to project a total for the year–visitation was strong in January before dropping in February and cratering the last six months. In fact, the last few months have seen several new all-time record lows with only 1,700 to 2,900 international visitors per month. A far cry from the 2-3 million per month last year!

If we use the most recent data as the “pace” for the rest of the year, this would be Japan’s worst year for tourism since the late 1990s. Even with travel restrictions lifted on an optimistic timeline, Japan will be lucky to crack 6 million tourists this year–obviously falling far short of the original 40 million forecast.

Japan has already fallen into a recession, with the outlook for the next three quarters not looking too promising–and this is on top of falling export numbers, an increased consumption tax suppressing consumer spending, and growing national debt. Suffice to say, Japan’s economic health is likewise a serious issue, and inbound tourism was previously a bright spot.

However, tourism numbers are unlikely to bounce back in 2020. Despite the aforementioned loosening of entry bans for visitors from certain countries and the tourism-dependent economy, it seems unlikely that Japan will move swiftly to resume entry for leisure travelers. Some such visitors from countries in Asia might be allowed to revisit this fall–maybe.

With that said, when Japan will reopen to leisure travelers from the United States, Canada, and Europe remains to be seen. If we had to guess–and that’s exactly what this is, a guess–we’d predict that Japan will not reopen to most visitors from the above countries in 2020.

The biggest issue on Japan’s end is efficient and large-scale airport testing. Japan is constructing facilities at Haneda, Narita, and Kansai Airports in Tokyo and Osaka. The goal is to open these facilities by Fall 2020 and conduct 10,000 PCR tests each day. We watch NHK Newsline and read multiple Japanese newspapers every single day for developments on this. (If you’d like to be updated as soon as we find out more, subscribe to our free email newsletter.)

Of course, it’s not just about Japan scaling up testing. Other countries will need to demonstrate containment or downward trends in new cases for a period of time. This could be sooner for Europe, but Americans are likely to be one of the lowest-priority countries due to our significant woes in controlling spread and highly-visible controversy over mask-wearing.

We suspect the best case scenario for visitors to Japan from the United States is Spring 2021.

As such, we currently only have tentative plans to visit Japan. Our original hope was to get back for fall colors season, but that now seems like a lost cause. Nevertheless, we still anxiously watch and read the news every single day, hoping for a break-through so we can book a last-minute trip.

More realistically, we’re now aiming to return to Japan for sakura season in Spring 2021. Delaying is not the worst thing, as we’re still not entirely comfortable taking a long-haul flight, being on public transportation, or dining in cramped ramen shops (one of our favorite things to do).

With all of that said, we definitely feel more comfortable out in public in Japan than the United States. Even with the denser population, popularity of mass transit, and relatively lax restrictions, Japan has seen far fewer cases and hospitalizations than other nations. There have been a range of theories as to how Japan “beat” the average, with the various theories having varying degrees of merit.

A big factor in Japan’s success is undoubtedly the widespread use of face masks, which were culturally commonplace for sick individuals in Japan to wear even prior to this. Japan’s more courteous society–devoid of rampant and misplaced notions about individuality, personal freedoms, liberties, or whatever–is definitely more attractive during a pandemic. (We’ll spare you that soapbox.)

That doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily visit Japan if we’re somehow presented with the opportunity in Fall 2020–there are still a lot of concerns and downsides–but it is one big check on the upsides column. Either way, we’ll keep watching the news and keep you posted if/when there are further developments about Japan reopening and allowing entry to travelers from the United States, Canada, Europe, and beyond!

If you’re planning a trip to the Japan, check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other things to do! We also recommend consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto and Ultimate Guide to Tokyo to plan.

Your Thoughts

Would you consider visiting Japan later this year, or is international travel out of the question for you until there’s a vaccine? Are you assuaged at all by the relatively low number of cases in Japan? Is Japan’s mask culture reassuring to you? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? If you’re planning your trip to Japan, what do you think about these itineraries? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

38 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    Do you think that Japan will eventually let non-nationals and non-residents take PCR tests at the airports and quarantine for 14 days if they have to, then let them into the country? If so, about when?

    Reply
  2. Galo
    Galo says:

    I’ve already had to cancel one trip in May (airline cancelled flight and got a full reimbursement) and postpone another planned for last July (airline cancelled flight and have an open ticket) right before the Olympics.

    I have yet another ticket purchased to fly late October for Halloween in Tokyo and planned to re-schedule my open ticket for end-of-year, but it seems I’ll have to postpone both plans as well.
    As it seems, the most likely (and last) opportunity window I have is for late-March for Sakura season and early May. Otherwise, I would have wasted the money of 2 Japan round-trip tickets.

    This lack of clarity about the opening roadmap is quite frustrating.

    Reply
    • Galliana
      Galliana says:

      Galo-
      100% agree with your frustrations. My husband and I are in the exact same boat. Already re-scheduled our original trip which was supposed to happen in April (airline let us re-book as long as we booked for sometime in 2020). So we re-booked to leaving late October for Halloween in Tokyo….but it seems that wont happen either. A this point, I am just hoping that the airline will be flexible and let us re-book for sometime in 2021.
      Sure hope they provide some clarification soon! Good luck to us!

      Reply
      • Galo
        Galo says:

        And we definitively need the luck!

        The airline notified me yesterday that my solo late Oct flight had been “modified”. Now they say I fly out on Nov 1st and return Nov 3rd.
        Of course that doesn’t work out for anything.

        So October is also trashed. Let’s hope something is left for November or December.

        Reply
        • Galliana
          Galliana says:

          We sure do! That’s a real bummer!!

          Same thing happened to us! The airline sent my husband an email a couple days ago saying that they “modified” our flights and basically just took 2 days out of our trip (not to mention the border situation). So needless to say that’s not happening.
          I hope you manage to book something for the end of the year. We were looking at our airlines options and it looks like there are a few but they are offering a refunds/rebooking in multiple forms, one of which in airline miles, and if you take that option, they are offering 65% bonus miles on top of the original trip- so that may be our best option, at this point. That way we could use miles to rebook for sometime next year and have enough additional miles for a potential other trip, as well.
          Here’s to hoping everything works out!! Cheers!

  3. Aki
    Aki says:

    I’m hoping to study abroad starting Spring 2022. If Japan isn’t open for Americans by then, I will be quite heartbroken! Crossing my fingers that it works out for everyone. I want everyone to stay safe but I also don’t want to give up my dreams!

    Reply
  4. Katie
    Katie says:

    I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo and Kyoto in June 2019, and was planning to go back in Summer 2021. Following a great flight deal (less than half of what I paid for 2019) I booked a trip in June 2021. Am I sure it will work out? No. But everything is completely refundable or moveable (the flight will give me a voucher to use later, which I will happily use later) so it’s a good gamble. If it works out, it’ll be a different trip to be sure, but it should still be amazing to get back out in the world.

    Reply
  5. Reynaldo A Flores
    Reynaldo A Flores says:

    As soon as Japan starts issuing visas again, I’m going. I had to forfeit 2 flights to Japan this year– in March and May, but I’m still hoping for the best.

    Reply
  6. Theo
    Theo says:

    While we hope for a full recovery, to be honest, Tokyo is just so much nicer as a resident without the tourists. I feel bad for the businesses though.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, I can imagine. We used to live in a California beach city that saw a lot of tourists for the summer season and was likewise much nicer following September.

      However, most of the businesses and our favorite restaurants in town were only viable thanks to the summer season. Given Abenomics and demographics, I’d imagine Japan is much more beholden to robust tourism.

      Reply
  7. Burton Clark Turner
    Burton Clark Turner says:

    I, or we, my wife is Japanese, plan to visit as soon as I can. I am very close to her family, speak Japanese well, and have many friends there. 本当に日本に行きたいだ。Japan is so special.

    Reply
  8. Eugenie
    Eugenie says:

    We are too following the developments (or lack thereof) of the border opening. Have the two week trip scheduled for May 2021. One can hope, right?

    Reply
    • AP
      AP says:

      I’m planning a trip for our family in May as well. I am feeling hopeful, a lot can change in 9 months, a lot has certainly changed in the 9 months before this 😉 I’m not going to book anything I can’t get a refund for/reschedule until I see the borders open though.

      Reply
  9. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Why do you give any credibility to Face Masks ?? The natural cloth weave has a seperation of about 25 000 microns and the virus particle is a fraction of that …I have heard something like .07 microns.

    Thats like using a fishing net to stop sand.

    It does however instill FEAR . What are you seeimg that it is effectiveness.

    Reply
    • Jeff
      Jeff says:

      The virus tends to be carried in microdroplets of water that we breathe out. These are big enough to be stopped by even a cloth mask giving masks some effectiveness at reducing the spread of the virus

      Reply
  10. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    We had a trip planned in early March of this year, and we rescheduled to May. Obviously that didn’t happen…so we got a flight credit and refund for everything else. I’ve got my fingers crossed for March of 2021. Although I’m disappointed with the delay, it has its benefits. Without all this extra time, I wouldn’t have planned the trip as well and been able to extend the length of the trip past what we originally planned in March. Fingers crossed!

    Reply
    • Erik
      Erik says:

      We also have a trip planned for late March 2021. We are banking on sakura season to provide the impetus for Japan to re-open to United States tourists. We certainly don’t mind getting a PCR test on arrival and waiting for a bit at the airport. We will get a negative test in the US before we leave, too. And masks always, of course. I just hope they lift the mandatory quarantine because otherwise there’s no point in visiting. If we have tested negative before we go, and we test negative when we arrive, it stands to reason that we shouldn’t be a risk to the Japanese population. I hope the government sees it that way, too.

      Reply
      • Suzanne
        Suzanne says:

        I agree. I am trying to get to Japan to see a loved one in November, December, March, however long it takes. Won’t the country’s impetus to hold the Olympics next July prompt them to get international/airport safety protocols in place well advance of the start of the games?

        Reply
  11. Luke Mueller
    Luke Mueller says:

    I have tickets for my friend group and I to go to Japan for two weeks at the beginning of January. . . I understand this may be a risky plan, but if anyone has any advice I am open to hearing it.

    Reply
  12. Laura Kimmick
    Laura Kimmick says:

    Expedia is going to reschedule my flight to Japan…originally scheduled for September 2020. I will let Expedia decide when I can go to Japan.

    Reply
  13. DANNYXFENTON
    DANNYXFENTON says:

    Had a 2 week tripped planed for the end of October but with everything happening we cancelled and now postponed until March 2021. Here’s to hoping the travel restriction is lifted. Truth be told, i feel safer there than the US.

    Reply
  14. Tobias
    Tobias says:

    Fall 2020 seems very optimistic to me – personally, I’m hoping (and planning, but not booking yet) for Spring 2021.

    But I’m keeping my fingers crossed you get to visit Japan again soon! I went to Kyoto, Osaka, Mt. Koya and a bit of Tokyo this spring, and your blog played a major role in making this trip completely unforgettable. For pretty much any temple or shrine I wanted to visit, I checked whether there’s a post from you, and I found many more via your itineraries. For example, without the blog, I wouldn’t have visited Kennin-ji, and I doubt I would’ve found the lovely moss fox shrine! Oh, and seeing all your photos was probably one of the main reasons I bought a camera for that trip, and that I’m now into photography. Thank you!

    Reply
  15. Frantz
    Frantz says:

    “We see the irony of our complaint here.” Love that line and the humility.

    We also wanted to go to Japan, specifically September 8 for two weeks.

    Still praying to make it some time this summer

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

Newer Comments »

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *